National

North repeatedly invited Yokotas to meet Megumi's daughter; mother says Tokyo didn't tell them

Kyodo

North Korea has repeatedly showed its eagerness to the Japanese government about inviting to Pyongyang the parents of Megumi Yokota, who was abducted by North Korea decades ago, to allow them to meet again with the abductee’s daughter, according to sources.

Tokyo has declined the requests, made on an unofficial basis since summer 2014, because it suspects North Korea is trying to deflect attention from the lack of progress in its latest investigation into the abductions of Japanese nationals.

Sakie Yokota, the 79-year-old mother of Megumi Yokota, who was abducted at age 13 and is seen as a symbol of the long-unresolved issue, said: “I haven’t heard such a story from the Japanese government. We are working hard to bring back Megumi and the others. If all the abductees return (to Japan), we will then be able to meet our grandchild freely.”

Sakie Yokota and her husband, Shigeru, 82, were allowed by North Korea to meet Megumi Yokota’s daughter, Kim Eun Gyong, for the first time in March last year in Ulan Bator. The Yokotas also met Kim Eun Gyong’s husband and their daughter.

When the meeting in Mongolia became public, the Yokotas expressed joy for having been able to see their grandchild, while Sakie Yokota said she remains convinced her daughter is alive despite North Korea’s claims to the contrary since 2004.

Pyongyang’s attempt to invite the Yokotas remains sensitive because their visit could be used politically by North Korea.

A source close to bilateral ties said, “North Korea may be trying to fend off criticism from Japan by showing that it is taking heed of the Yokotas, who are perceived as symbolic among the families of the abductees.”

For Japan, finding out what happened to those believed to have been abducted by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s is an issue of the highest priority. The two countries agreed in May 2014 that Pyongyang would conduct a comprehensive survey of all Japanese in North Korea, including the abductees.

North Korea said last September that it aimed to complete the investigation within a year or so, but then in Julyit said it needed more time, according to the Japanese government.

Japan officially lists 17 nationals as having been abducted by North Korea but suspects its agents were involved in many more disappearances. Five abductees were repatriated in 2002.

Of the 12 still missing, until the start of the new investigation North Korea had insisted that eight were dead, including Megumi Yokota, and four others never entered its territory, including the mother of repatriated abductee Hitomi Soga. The two were together when North Korean agents captured them and spirited them away from Niigata Prefecture’s Sado Island by boat.